The way John Means pitched Tuesday was encouraging. The way his offense hit wasn’t.
In his first start since April 2022, Means pitched five innings of three-run ball, pounding the strike zone and looking like a starting pitcher capable of remaining in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
But Baltimore’s bats didn’t back him up, putting together perhaps their worst offensive performance in weeks against the worst statistical starting pitcher in the major leagues. St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright entered Tuesday with an 8.19 ERA that was 1.31 runs worse than any other starter with more than 80 innings pitched, but the Orioles couldn’t capitalize against the struggling veteran and his bullpen in a 5-2 loss.
The matchup against the National League Central-worst Cardinals was ripe for the taking, as the Orioles have spent the past few weeks as one of the best offenses in the sport. They scored 48 runs in their previous five games and averaged 7.62 since Aug. 28.
But despite totaling nine hits and five walks, Baltimore couldn’t come through with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-12 in such situations with three double plays and 10 runners left on base. The club entered Tuesday with an .850 OPS in those moments, ranking first in the majors.
The lone runs the offense managed came off Wainwright in the fifth inning on an Anthony Santander single and a Ryan O’Hearn groundout. Wainwright, who tossed five innings of two-run ball, has spent the 2023 season searching for his 200th win, entering the campaign with 195. The 42-year-old’s victory Tuesday was his fourth of the season against 11 losses, making the potential Hall of Fame candidate one win away from the milestone.
Baltimore falls to 91-53 and 2 1/2 games above the Tampa Bay Rays, whose game against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday is still ongoing, for the best record in the American League. The Orioles’ magic number remains at four, with the chance to move to three if the Seattle Mariners lose to the Los Angeles Angels late Tuesday night.
Means solid in return
Means’ return was almost derailed in the second inning.
Toeing the rubber at Camden Yards for the first time since April 13, 2022, Means allowed the first three batters of the frame to reach base on balls hit softer than 75 mph, a string of bad luck that can often spiral into more misfortune. But as the left-hander often did when he headlined the Orioles’ rebuild-era rotation, he didn’t flinch.
He gave up just one run after the bases-loaded, no-out jam — a sacrifice fly to Jordan Walker — en route to a solid five-inning start. Means wasn’t the All-Star version from 2019 or the no-hitter model from 2021, managing just one strikeout and seven swings and misses, but that was never the expectation Tuesday, and he doesn’t need to be that pitcher to help the Orioles down the stretch.
He pounded the zone as well as any Orioles starter has this season, with 55 of his 75 pitches going for strikes and not issuing a walk. Aside from the two bloop singles in the second, the other two hits Means allowed were solo home runs — one in the first inning to Paul Goldschmidt, the other in the fourth to former Towson University standout Richie Palacios.
Means got stronger as the outing progressed, retiring 12 of the final 13 batters he faced. The average exit velocity off him was just 85.7 mph. His fastball averaged 92.2 mph, close to the velocity he showed in 2021.
Jorge López followed Means with a scoreless sixth but allowed two in the seventh as the Cardinals (64-81) took a three-run lead. Palacios hit his second solo shot, the first two-homer game of his career, and Lars Nootbaar singled off Cionel Pérez to score a run charged to López. Former starter Cole Irvin pitched two scoreless innings to save the rest of the bullpen entering Wednesday’s series finale. With Kyle Gibson on the mound, the Orioles hope to win their eighth straight series.
Starting pitchers Kyle Bradish, Jack Flaherty, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer are slated to start the pivotal four-game series against the Rays this weekend.
This story will be updated.
Cardinals at Orioles
Wednesday, 6:35 p.m.
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